This week, I am discussing one of the oldest cultivated Old European Roses, the Gallica Rose.
The original species and parent of all Gallica roses, Rosa gallica is a small, upright, deciduous bush (1.2 m high by 0.9 m wide), which suckers freely to form large shrubberies and is native to Southern and Central Europe, as far east as Turkey and the Caucasus mountains. The slender stems have fine prickles and glandular bristles and the pinnate leaves have 3 to 7 dull bluish-green leaflets. Borne in clusters of 1 to 4 blooms in Summer, the single, medium to large, deep pink, fragrant flowers have 5 petals and pronounced gold stamens and are followed by 10 to 13 mm, orange-brown, globose to ovoid hips in Autumn. It was known to the Ancient Greeks and Romans and only flowers once.
Rosa gallica officinalis is the oldest cultivated Western rose and was grown in vast amounts by the Romans for rose oil, medicine and potpourri, as its petals retain their fragrance when dried. It is an erect, low, bushy shrub (1.2 m high and wide; 1 to 1.5 m in Australia) with dull, dark grey-green foliage; highly fragrant, profuse, 8 cm wide, semi-double, deep pink blooms with gold stamens in Spring and Summer (the colour varying with the climate and season, being much paler in the heat); and small oval hips in Autumn. It declined in popularity after the fall of Rome, surviving in hedgerows, cemeteries, roadsides and abandoned gardens. It also persisted in 13th century monastery gardens, where its medicinal use earned it the title of the ‘Apothecary’s Rose’. Other names are the ‘Red Rose of Lancaster’, being a symbol of the House of Lancaster in the War of the Roses in the 13th century ; the ‘Red Rose of Miletus’ (Miletus was an Ancient Greek city), described by Pliny; and the ‘Rose of Provins’ or the ‘French Rose’, because many Gallicas were grown in Provins, just south-east of Paris. The word ‘Gallica’ is the female form of the Latin word ‘Gallicus’, meaning ‘Gallic’ or ‘French’, even though they are not French at all, but originated in the Caucasus Mountains! It was thought to have been brought back to Provins by Thibault Le Chansonnier on his return home from the Crusades. Thibault IV, King of Navarre, wrote a poem called ‘Le Roman de la Rose’ in 1260, in which he refers to this rose as having come from ‘the Land of the Saracens’.
In 1629, English botanist, John Parkinson, listed 12 types of Gallica roses. The Dutch then started raising seedlings to produce new varieties, after which the French started breeding them on a large scale. By the 1800s, there were over 2000 Gallica cultivars, accounting for more than half of the roses sold in Europe at that time. Empress Josephine grew 150 different Gallicas at her chateau at Malmaison. With their penchant for the unusual, Victorian gardeners loved collecting striped and spotted Gallicas in the early 19th century. With the introduction of the repeat blooming Hybrid Perpetuals, and then the Hybrid Teas, with their high centres and yellow and orange hues, Gallicas declined in popularity and there are only about 30 cultivars available today, though Peter Beales describes 52 varieties in his book ‘Classic Roses’. New Gallicas are still being produced in France and these particular cultivars tend to do better in dry and warm climates. There are no climbers, no repeat bloomers and no whites.
Dense, bushy, compact, stocky, upright small shrubs, generally 1.2m tall and 1.2 m wide, and suitable for small gardens and large containers.
Stems are slender and have fine prickles.
Foliage: Heavily veined, rough-textured, pointed, dull green oval leaves, which turn a deep red in Autumn.
Once-flowering: Blooms profusely for a period of 3 to 6 weeks in mid Summer. Open blooms, showing their stamens, are borne upright. Flowers are very variable in form, colour and fragrance.
Flower Form: Near-singles to fully-double, densely-packed rosettes 6.4 to 8.9 cm in diameter.
Flower Colour: From blush pink to a variety of pinks, lavenders and mauves and deep purple to crimson shades. Colours vary clear to cloudy, striped and even spotted. Most cultivars are the deeper, more intense colours : deep pinks; near-crimsons; and rich mixtures of purple, violet and mauve. This photo is Rosa Mundi.Cultivation:
Gallicas are extremely hardy, tough, undemanding shrubs, which tolerate poor dry soils and gravel, drought and shade, though their colours will be less intense when grown in shade. Cold hardy, they survive Northern European Winters without harm. They can be grown in Zone 4 to 8 and can survive temperatures down to minus 25 degrees Celsius. In fact, they actually require Winter chilling to provide a dormant period and perform poorly in the warmer areas of Southern Europe. They propagate easily from runners and suckers and will sucker freely if grown on their own roots to form thickets. Generally, disease and pest resistant (though their leaves can get mildew in cold, damp climates), they are very easy-care roses. Only prune out dead wood and the occasional old cane to increase air flow and encourage new basal shoots. Their size makes them ideal for small gardens. This photo is also Rosa Mundi. Note the variation in the amount of deep pink.Cultivars:
Rosa Mundi : Rosa gallica versicolour Prior to 1581
A sport of Rosa gallica officinalis and one of the oldest and best known striped roses, this rose was named after Fair Rosamund, the mistress of King Henry II (1133 – 1189), as it was found growing near her grave. An upright bushy rose, 0.5 m to 1 m in height and width, with smooth stems, dull matte green foliage and highly fragrant, semi-double, 7 cm wide, striped flowers (though sometimes the odd branch reverts to its parent’s deep pink blooms). Flowers have crimson, pink and deep pink stripes on a blush white background and are followed by small oval red hips in late Summer and Autumn. A very hardy rose, tolerant of Summer heat and humidity (though is prone to mildew), it makes an excellent low hedge! Here is a final photo of Rosa Mundi !Two more striped Gallicas are Camaieux (Camayeux), bred by Vibert in 1830, and Georges Vibert, bred by Robert in 1853 (according to Peter Beales, though David Austin attributes this rose to Bizard in 1828). Camaieux is a neat compact shrub (0.9 m high and wide) with twiggy growth and arching stems; grey-green leaves; and sweetly fragrant, loosely double, blush white flowers with even deep pink and magenta stripes, fading to mauve purple stripes on white with age. Dependable and disease free, it does not ball in wet weather. Georges Vibert has a small compact habit (1 m tall and wide); many thorns; and crimson buds, which open to small, flat, finely quilled and quartered, fragrant Summer blooms, which are blush white, striped with light crimson, though the colour may vary from carmine to purple depending on the climate. See the photo below:
Cardinal de Richelieu Before 1847
One of the most commonly grown Gallicas, this tough medium sized shrub (1.5 m to 1.8 m high and 1.5 m wide) has a lovely branching habit, shapely orderly growth, few thorns, dark green leaves and ‘one of the darkest blooms of all roses’, according to David Austin.
While its breeding has been ascribed to either Van Sian ( Holland) and Louis Parmentier (Belgium), it was introduced by Laffay in France in 1840 and its smooth, shiny, dark green foliage and growth habits are due to the fact that one quarter of its genes are from China roses. This Gallica has also been described by Graham Thomas as having ‘sumptuous blooms of dark grape’, due to its intense deep colouring. Dark crimson-purple buds open to a dustier, deep purple plum, small, cupped Gallica-like blooms, 6 cm wide, which reflex back to almost a ball and fade to a deep grey purple. It has 3 blooms per cluster and the fragrance has been described as a mild peppery scent. It benefits from the periodic removal of older growth. This rose was genetically altered in 2004 to produce the world’s first blue rose.Other Gallicas with intense deep colouring are Tuscany (pre 1598) and its sport Tuscany Superb (Rivers, UK, 1837). Tuscany is one of the oldest surviving Gallicas, described as the Old Velvet Rose in ‘Gerard’s Herbal‘ in 1596. A vigorous, tidy, rounded shrub, 1.2 m tall and wide, it has stems, which are covered with fine prickles, and small dark green leaves. Like all Gallicas, it only flowers once in Spring with slightly fragrant, large, semi-double, dark crimson to deep purple flowers with flat velvety petals, arranged around prominent yellow stamens. A very tough survivor, it is both Winter-hardy and tolerant of Summer heat and humidity. It is not susceptible to black spot and only rarely gets mildew. It suckers readily on its own roots. Tuscany Superb, a sport of Tuscany, is a very fine Gallica, 1.5 m high and 0.9 m wide, with almost thornless stems; larger and more rounded, dark green foliage; and highly fragrant, semi-double, deep rich maroon velvety 6 cm wide blooms, ageing to a purple black, with gold stamens (often partially obscured by the larger number of petals), followed by bright orange red hips. The seed germinates easily, but needs stratification by chilling in the fridge for 12 weeks prior to sowing in Spring. It also spreads by suckering. Tuscany Superb requires a cold Winter for proper dormancy and Spring blooming. It is resistant to black spot, though can get slight mildew after blooming. See photos above and below.I grew Rosa Mundi, Georges Vibert and Tuscany Superb in my old rose garden and would love to room to grow these once-flowering roses again! Two other Gallicas, which I would love to grow for their historical associations are Sissinghurst Castle and Empress Josephine. Sissinghurst Castle, also known as Rose des Maures, is another deep red Gallica, which was discovered by old rose lover, Vita Sackville-West, in the early 1900s, when clearing the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle. It bears rich plum blooms, edged and flecked with light magenta-crimson, with gold stamens in the centre. See its photo below. It was commercially produced from 1947 on and its blooms are very similar to Tuscany Superb, but the growth of the latter is is taller and more arching. It suckers freely to produce thickets of thick upright stems and is an incredibly tough survivor. Empress Josephine, also known as Rosa francofurtana, but renamed after her death, is a large, sturdy, shapely shrub, with thornless stems; clean, trouble-free, coarsely-textured grey-green foliage; profuse, mildly fragrant, large, semi-double, rich pink, heavily textured blooms, veined with deeper shades, which last for 4 to 6 weeks; and a fine crop of large turbinate hips. Like all Gallicas, it is very tough and tolerant of poor soils.Please note, because I tend to only use my own photographs, I have only described roses that I have grown or photographed in gardens, which I have visited. Please consult ‘Classic Roses’ by Peter Beales or ‘The Rose’ by David Austin for a more extensive list. Next month, I am describing the Divine Damasks, another very ancient rose group.